“That was really stupid, Thomas,” Jamie said.
“You tied Robbie to a tree? What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that he needed to get over being afraid of his own shadow,” Thomas defended.
“He’s eight years old! When I was eight I was afraid of everything too.”
“No, you weren’t. Robbie is a wimp. Don’t you see? I’m just trying to keep him from getting beat up and made fun of as he gets older.”
“By bullying him? It isn’t working, Thomas. Maybe you should try a little kindness, a little understanding.”
“You’re as bad as Mom. Just cause he’s the baby everyone wants to infantilize him.”
“I don’t even know what that means. But really, Thomas, you need to lay off.”
“Mind your own business, Jamie.”
“He’s right, you know,” Thomas said after Jamie had stormed off.
“About what?” Robbie asked, still pissed at his older brother and not wanting to give up the fight.
“We didn’t have it so bad.”
“Speak for yourself. I had to live with you.”
“Was I really that hard on you?”
“Yeah, Thomas, you were. And it seems you still are.”
Thomas shook his head. “I never knew how to relate to you. I still don’t.”
“Why? Does everyone have to fit into your mold? Live by your rules? It’s not all black and white, Thomas. There’s a lot of grey in this world.” Robbie had had enough of this discussion. “Surely the nurses are done by now. I’m going back up.”
“Yeah, they were done a while ago before I came down here, Mom is in with him.”
Robbie stood. “Coming?”
They were silent in the elevator ride up, both lost in their own thoughts of childhood. Thomas was the first to exit the car and make it around the corner. He saw Jamie standing out in the hall embracing their mother and felt his stomach sink. Robbie was only a few steps behind. “What’s going on? Is Dad all right?”
“I don’t know,” Thomas answered.
As they walked up to where Jamie and their mother stood, it was obvious that Fred had passed. He died without ever regaining consciousness; without knowing his whole family was there.
Susan went from Jamie’s arms to Thomas’s. Robbie looked from their mother’s face to Jamie’s then into their father’s room at his body laying there with a sheet draped over him. The color drained from his face and bile rose in his throat.
“Robbie?” Jamie asked. “Are you okay?”
Robbie shook his head and bolted for the bathroom door down the hall.
“Knock, knock,” Lisa said sticking her head through the open door to the bedroom where Sara and Koi sat talking colors of bridesmaid’s dresses.
“Come on in,” Sara said.
“Am I interrupting? I just got the kids down.”
“We were just talking weddings,” Koi offered. “Come, sit.” He patted a place on the bed next to him.
“Oh? Are you and Jamie finally going to get married?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah, I’m thinking October,” Sara answered.
“That’s wonderful,” Lisa said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Lisa? What’s wrong?” Sara asked.
“I’m sorry, it’s nothing…. it’s just, well, Thomas asked me for a divorce.”
“Oh Lisa, no. I’m sorry,” Sara said.
Lisa frowned, “It’s been coming. Our marriage had been in trouble for years; only Thomas never seemed to notice. And then I started an affair, and Thomas found out. I don’t think he’ll be able to forgive me.”
“Is the guy you’re having the affair with… well, is it serious?” Koi asked tentatively.
“No, he was just something to pass the time, to make me feel special.”
Koi nodded, “You should tell Thomas that. If he knows the guy didn’t mean anything to you it might be easier for him. You know, that it was just sex, nothing more.”
Lisa shook her head. “He doesn’t want to hear it.”
“Give him time,” Koi answered.
Sara eyed Koi. “Are you speaking from experience, Koi?”
“Well, sort of. I mean, well, Robbie and I have an open relationship, so it’s not really the same.”
“An open relationship? You mean you have sex with other people?” Lisa asked.
“Truth be told, Robbie has sex with other people, but yeah, that’s what I mean.”
“Koi. I had no idea. Why do you put up with that?” Sara wasn’t doing much to hide her surprise.
Koi sighed. “Well, it’s different for two guys. Lots of our friends have open relationships, and it’s not like we don’t have rules: no affairs, one time fucks only. It’s just that, well, I don’t know very many couples in open relationships where both people want the relationship open. Usually one doesn’t want to commit and the other just doesn’t want to lose.”
“But you shouldn’t settle, you shouldn’t sell yourself short, Koi. You should go after what you want,” Sara said.
“I want Robbie, and I’m not going to ask him to change. So if I have to share him…” he shrugged.
“But Koi…” Sara started, but was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone.
She looked at the display, then answered, “Hi, Jamie.”
“Sara. Dad’s gone.”
“Jamie, oh my god. How’s your mother?”
“I don’t know, as well as can be expected.”
“You want me to come up there?”
“No. The doctor is going to meet with us here in a minute, then we’ll be coming home. I wanted you to know before we got there. Will you tell Lisa and Koi?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll see you in a little bit then.”
Sara closed her phone then looked and Koi and Lisa. “Fred died.”
The first thing Sara noticed when the brothers and their mother walked in the door was how weary the four looked.
“Can I fix you something to eat?” Sara asked as everyone sat down in the living room.
“No, dear. You don’t need to bother,” Susan answered. She turned to Thomas. “What time are we to be at Graber’s?” Graber’s was the local funeral home where Fred’s body would be prepared for burial.
“Whenever we want tomorrow morning. No special time,” Thomas answered.
“Well then, we should all get to bed soon. We’ll have a long day tomorrow,” Susan said, but didn’t make a move to get up. The room fell silent again.
“Susan? The kids are asleep in Thomas’s bed. Would it be okay if I sleep with you? That way Thomas can share the bed with the kids,” Lisa suggested. She thought that maybe facing the bedroom alone would be something Susan might be dreading.
“That would be lovely and you’re such a dear to suggest it,” Susan said, she stood and took Lisa’s hand. “You are such a lovely girl.”
“Come on guys,” Thomas said. “Let’s all go to bed.”
Everyone stood and began making their way to their bedrooms except Robbie. He had yet to speak since learning of his father’s death. He sat on the sofa with Koi still at his side. Jamie turned and started to ask after him when Koi silently mouthed, “I’ll take care of him.” Jamie nodded and left the room.
“Come on, Robbie. Let’s go to bed,” Koi said, standing up and pulling Robbie to his feet.
“He never knew, Koi.”
“Sure he did, baby. He knew you would come home.”
The following morning Sara got up early and went to work in the kitchen, fixing a big breakfast.
One by one the family filed in, each looking as though they hadn’t slept a wink. They filled their plates and pushed the food around with their forks. No one had much of an appetite.
“What suit do you want to take for Dad to wear?” Thomas asked their mother.
“I was thinking of the dark blue one, he always loved that one.” Susan turned to Sara. “This is a lovely meal, dear. It’s so sweet of you to fix it.”
“It’s the least I could do,” she replied.
After Susan had sipped a cup of coffee she stood. “I’ll clear the table.”
“No, you won’t,” Sara said. “Lisa and I will clean this up.”
“Yeah, Mom, let the girls do this, you go get ready to go to Graber’s.” Thomas was ready to have this behind him. He was not looking forward to walking his mother and younger brothers through this ordeal.
She nodded. “Yes, I suppose they are waiting on us.”
After she left the room Thomas turned to Lisa. “Have you told the kids?”
“No, they were already asleep last night. I’ll tell them later, after they wake up.”
“Do you want me to tell them?” he offered.
“No, I’ll do it.” She tried to keep her voice chipper; she could only imagine Thomas’s idea of breaking it to their children. Grandpa died kids. It’s a fact of life, deal with it.
By the time they had the kitchen cleaned up Susan was back and ready to take the suit to the funeral home.
“Ready?” Thomas asked.
“Sara? Would you mind coming with us?”
“Sure,” Sara answered although she had no idea why Susan would want her there. “Let me go comb my hair.”
“Jamie, would you or Robbie care to come along?” she asked the boys still sitting at the table.
“I’d like to go with you, Mom,” Jamie said. “Robbie?”
Robbie shook his head. “I’ll stay here.”
Thomas herded everyone out the door leaving Lisa and Koi with Robbie at the kitchen table.
“I think I’m going to go lay down,” Robbie said pushing up from the table.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.” Ella came padding into the kitchen in her pajamas with her hair sticking up every which way.
“Come to the table then,” Lisa said.
“Can I sit by Koi?”
“Sure thing, princess,” Koi said helping her up into the chair next to him. He reached out and grabbed Robbie’s hand as he walked by. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked.
Robbie shook his head. “I just want to rest for awhile.”
“Why is he so sad?” Ella asked when Robbie walked away.
“Well,” Lisa said. “Remember when we told you Poppy was sick?”
“Well, sweetie, the doctors couldn’t make him better.”
TJ came walking in. “Did Poppy die?” he asked.
“Yes, honey, he did,” Lisa answered.
TJ walked to her and buried his head in her lap. “I didn’t want him to die.”
“I know sweetie, none of us did.”
Ella saw her brother crying and began to follow suit, although not really understanding what was happening.
Lisa gathered TJ in her arms, although at eight, he was really too big for her to carry. “Koi, can you keep an eye on Ella for me?” She felt she needed to spend some time helping her son grieve knowing Ella would calm down once her brother was out of her sight.
“Sure, Lisa. Ella would you like some waffles?”
Ella gave one more little sniffle, “Yeah.”
Later Koi and Ella were setting in the living room reading a story when the doorbell rang. Robbie was still lying down and Lisa was with TJ.
Koi opened the door. A well-coifed lady stood on the porch carrying a covered dish. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Is Susan home? I’m her neighbor down the way. I heard about Fred and I wanted to offer my condolences and bring her a little something.”
“Oh, um, no, but come in,” Koi said holding the door open for her to enter. “Susan is currently at the funeral home.”
“Oh,” she said carrying the dish into the kitchen and set it on the counter. “I don’t believe I have met you before. Are her son’s here?” She looked around behind Koi as if he might be hiding them.
“Yes, Thomas and Jamie are with Susan at the funeral home. Robbie is lying down.” He didn’t offer any more.
“Hello, Eleanor.” Lisa had emerged from the bedroom.
“Lisa. I’m so sorry to hear the news.”
“Thank you. I see you’ve already met Koi.”
“Yes, I wasn’t sure where he fit in.” Eleanor was being nosey as usual.
“He’s a dear friend of the family,” was how Lisa chose to answer. “I’ll be sure to tell Susan you were here and brought the lovely casserole,” she said taking the dish and placing it in the refrigerator.
“Please tell her to call if she needs anything,” Eleanor said as Lisa politely escorted her to the door.
“I will, and thank you again for the dish. I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”
After she had swept Eleanor out the door and closed it after her, she turned to Koi. “Susan can’t stand that nosey old bag.”
Koi grinned. “She was dying to know about me.”
“Well she can go…” Lisa started, then stopped herself. “Well, you know.”
The rest of the afternoon Lisa and Koi answered the door over and over as friends of Susan and Fred’s stopped by with their condolences, bearing food, flowers, or both.
Finally Thomas, Jamie, Sara, and Susan returned from the funeral home.
“Oh my, where did all the food come from?” Susan asked.
“It seems Fred was dearly loved by this community,” Lisa said.
“We’ll never be able to eat all this.” Susan stood in the kitchen looking at dish after dish.
“Mom, there will be people stopping by here after the funeral,” Thomas said.
“Oh, yes, of course.” She seemed a little befuddled.
“Mom, why don’t you go rest for a few hours. We will need to be back at Graber’s for the wake tonight,” Jamie said
“The wake is tonight?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah, and the funeral is tomorrow afternoon,” Thomas answered
“Why so soon? I thought… well,” Lisa figured she knew who’s idea it was to put a rush on the process. “That doesn’t give much time for the news to get out.”
Thomas shrugged and pointed to the kitchen. “Looks like the news is already out.”
Robbie leaned over to Koi and quietly said, “I guess we better go buy a couple of suits.”
“I brought them with me when I came. Just in case,” Koi whispered back.
Thomas looked over to where they were sitting. “What? If you wanted to have some input then you should have come with us to the funeral home.”
Robbie frowned and shook his head in disbelief. He felt Koi tense. “It’s not worth it,” he said to as he placed a hand on Koi’s arm. “Let it slide.”
“What?” Thomas barked again.
“I was just discussing whether I had anything to wear,” Robbie said with a little more force than he intended.
“Oh,” Thomas said meekly and left the room.